Staggering number of migrants attempted to come to South Florida last fiscal year

Suspected smuggling operations still underway

MIAMI – Federal agents and other law enforcement officers encountered a staggering number of migrants attempting to come to South Florida last fiscal year, often in unseaworthy, homemade vessels.

But the number of interdictions at sea and migrant landings has decreased significantly.

“We are seeing roughly a 95 percent decrease,” said Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Adam Hoffner, with the U.S. Border Patrol Miami Sector.

In an exclusive interview with Local 10, Kristie Canegallo, acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said she believes updated policies are making a difference.

“It really is, I think, a reflection of the comprehensive approach we’ve put in place,” Canegallo said. “To expand lawful pathways for individuals who want to come to the United States, while at the same time, increasing the consequences.”

Deportation flights have resumed to Cuba and Venezuela, and the administration has expanded parole programs for Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans. Numbers provided to Local 10 show more than 250,000 people have used the online CBP ONE app to start the process online.

“By expanding legal pathways to a degree that hasn’t been the case before, we’re telling people that there is a way that you can come to the States that does not mean that you should put your lives in the hands of a smuggler,” Canegallo said.

Canegallo praised the federal partnerships in South Florida, and the work of the Homeland Security Task Force Southeast, which includes the U.S. Coast Guard.

On the state level, an increased number of law enforcement officers continues to be detailed to the Florida Keys after Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in January. The executive order to beef up resources was renewed at the end of October.

Law enforcement detailed to the island chain live in an encampment in Islamorada with private security. State agencies have repeatedly denied Local 10′s requests for ride-alongs.

In January, Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said state agencies were coordinating to respond to the increase in migration. Officers have told Local 10 off camera they believe their presence has been a deterrent.

Agents and officers working in the field said they know there could be another influx and are always ready. Suspected smuggling operations at sea are still happening.

“The Border Patrol, historically, whether on the Southwest border or here in our coastal environment, we have managed influxes before,” Hoffner said. “Our state and local resources - we certainly welcome the help from all of our partner agencies. Our message continues to be: don’t take to the sea - it’s an extremely dangerous voyage.”

About the Author:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.